The National Elections Commission (CNE) has chosen the Maputo company Solucoes Ltd to run the independent audit of the computer software that will be used during the provincial and national count in the 1 - 2 December presidential and parliamentary elections. CNE spokesperson Filipe Mandlate told a press briefing on 22 November that last week five companies were invited to bid for the audit contract. Only two replied, and on 22 November, by a majority of seven votes to four, the CNE awarded the contract to Solucoes.
The four opposing votes were from CNE members appointed by the main opposition party, Renamo. They did not seem to have anything specific against Solucoes - indeed, according to Mandlate, the Renamo members complained they did not know anything about this company.
They also stated that they needed "more time to reflect", and were "not in a position to analyse the documents". They also demanded to see the Terms of Reference - something which Mandlate regarded as "a complete innovation".
For the normal practice is that the CNE approves the terms of the tender, and the Terms of Reference are then left up to its executive body, STAE (Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat).
As for the demand for "more time", the main problem is that the CNE is running out of time. Mandlate said that it was the time factor that determined a limited tender, directed at five companies, rather than a public tender (which would require 30 days).
Solucoes is expected to audit the software and present its report by 26 November. This tight timetable may well be why three of the five companies did not respond. One computer expert contacted by AIM doubted the feasibility of doing a thorough job in just four days.
The CNE plans to present the software to the public on 27 November. The political parties, election observers, civil society organisations, and foreign donors will be invited to look at the software. Mandlate said the CNE has not yet decided whether to make the report from Solucoes public, "but I think the door is open. We want to reassure everyone involved, and guarantee maximum transparency".
Following the public presentation of the software, STAE will run a one-day training course for the technicians (appointed by Frelimo and Renamo) who will operate the computers. Then the software will be installed in all 11 provincial capitals as well as at STAE headquarters.
Mandlate was optimistic that, despite the tight timetable, everything is running smoothly. He said the second group of staff required to operate the 13,000 polling stations will complete their training on 26 November. 330 people have already been trained to run the 60 polling stations outside the country where Mozambican emigrants will vote.
He added that so far 883 Mozambican election observers and 79 foreign observers have been accredited, and 360 journalists (the vast majority of them - 355 - from the Mozambican press).
Despite the regular accusations of violence and other illegal behaviour, by Frelimo against Renamo, and by Renamo against Frelimo, not a single formal complaint has been lodged with the CNE.
Mandlate said the CNE could not act simply on the basis of press reports. "If people prefer to make their complaints through their press, that's their decision and we respect it", he added.
Mozambique has now entered the rainy season, with torrential downpours in Maputo over the past few days. Mandlate insisted that "everything is being done to take account of the rains".
The weather is not too much of a problem where polling stations are established in brick buildings (normally schools). But in rural areas, some of the polling stations are in flimsy structures or out in the open. In such cases, election staff are building improvised sheds to protect the polling station staff, and the election materials, from the elements.
Strong winds, accompanied by heavy rains, killed two people and 28 head of cattle in Catandica, in the central province of Manica, on 22 November, and destroyed property there and in the western province of Tete. The couple that died in Manica were struck by lightning in their own house.
Both in Manica and in Tete, strong winds of about 74 kilometres per hour were accompanied by heavy rainfall. In Tete, the storm completely ripped off the roof and destroyed all equipment, including four computers, and all documents of the emergency services and offices of the provincial hospital. The office of the hospital director, Fernando Joaquim, was also completely destroyed.
The Tete provincial hospital, built in 1958, was already in a degraded state before the storm. It required full rehabilitation, which the Health Ministry is still planning.
"Preparations to rebuild this hospital are at an advanced stage. The plan is on the table, and the next step is to launch a public tender, which is taking time, and all these delays led to this disaster", lamented the provincial Health director, Frederico Brito.
Murdered journalist Carlos Cardoso is "the reference point" for all Mozambican reporters, declared Hilario Matusse, general secretary of the National Journalists Union (SNJ), on 22 November. He was speaking at a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of Cardoso's assassination on 22 November 2000. Mourners lit candles and laid flowers at the spot where the murderers forced Cardoso's car to a halt and raked it with bullets. Painted on a nearby wall, a large slogan reads "Cardoso Vive!" (Cardoso Lives !).
Cardoso set an example for the country's journalists, said Matusse, and the SNJ "intends to perpetuate that example". The union would never forget Cardoso, and Matusse hoped that all media professionals would be "as attentive to what is happening in the country as Cardoso was".
He mentioned the annual "Carlos Cardoso Prize" for investigative journalism, and hoped that it would "lead to the emergence of new Cardosos".
Notable by their absence from the ceremony were Mozambique's political parties - despite all the election campaign rhetoric about crime and press freedom, not a single leading figure, either from the ruling Frelimo Party, or from the opposition, to show up.
Meanwhile, the man who recruited the death squad that murdered Cardoso, Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho"), remains in a Toronto detention centre, the fate of his request for refugee status still uncertain.
Anibalzinho escaped from the Maputo top security prison, where he was serving a prison sentence of 28 years and six months, on 9 May. Whoever facilitated the escape also organised a false passport and an airline ticket for the assassin, and he arrived in Toronto on 21 May, where immigration staff promptly detained him.
The Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Jose Maria das Neves, has expressed his country's interest in importing sugar from Mozambique. On 19 November Neves visited the Maragra sugar mill and plantation, 80 kilometres north of Maputo, and said he was impressed by what he saw. This company, in which the main shareholder is the South African group Illovo, produced about 58,000 tonnes of sugar this year.
Illovo is the third largest sugar producer in the world, and the largest in Africa. One of the company's managers, Mike Cotter, told Neves that the world market "is very interested in Mozambican sugar, due to its excellent quality, which far exceeds international standards".
Neves told reporters that companies such as Maragra were "unequivocal proof" that, by using its own potential, "Africa can build its own future".
"Mozambique is on the right path", he said, "and when I return to Cape Verde, I shall encourage strengthened cooperation between our two countries, taking into account that all the sugar the archipelago consumes is imported".
He promised he would try to arouse interest in Cape Verdean businesses in importing Mozambican sugar.
Neves also visited the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo. With the conclusion of the expansion of MOZAL in 2003, giving it the capacity to produce half a million tonnes of aluminium ingots a year, this smelter is now among the five largest in the world.
The Mozambican state on 17 November formally handed over the derelict Buzi sugar company, located in the central province of Sofala, to its new owner, Maragra. Maragra is a successful sugar company on the banks of the Incomati river in Maputo province, in which the main shareholder is the South African concern Illovo.
The Buzi company has produced almost nothing for more than a decade, and its equipment is obsolete. Under its contract with the government's Institute for the Management of State Holdings (IGEPE), Maragra has agreed to pay $1.25 million for 1.5 million shares in the Buzi Company, plus all its assets.
At the ceremony, the chairman of the IGEPE board, Daniel Gabriel, said that the Maragra takeover of the company would bring new life to Buzi town, since Maragra would guarantee employment to local people in rehabilitating the company, and building new infrastructures.
Gabriel admitted that it had been difficult to find a "serious investor" for Buzi, given the extremely degraded state of the sugar mill. "The new managers of the Buzi Company", he said, "are those who rebuilt the mill at Manhica (where Maragra is located) from the ashes, and so we are hopeful that Buzi will emerge from its poverty. But we will still need a lot of time".
The Maragra chairperson. Jorge Petiz, said that the new owners' top priority is to recruit people from among the former Buzi Company work force. Buzi once employed 3,000 people, but just 110 workers have remained on the premises in charge of security and minimum maintenance - and they have not been paid for months. But on 17 November these workers began to receive their back wages - in all the company owes its work force about six billion meticais (about $270,000).
Maragra has promised that, within a matter of days, it will start rehabilitating the Buzi distilling equipment so that, as from 2005, the factory can produce alcohol.
A study on resuming sugar production will be undertaken - but the director of the National Sugar Institute (INA), Arnaldo Ribeiro, warned that the production of sugar at Buzi depends on the market.
He thought that only in 2009 would it be possible to produce sugar, since that was when the European Union is likely to increase the amount of sugar it purchases from developing countries, including Mozambique.
The domestic sugar market is already fully supplied by the four functioning sugar mills.
Maragra is also to look into reviving livestock and timber activities at Buzi. It has promised that, in the first year of activity, it will create 160 jobs at Buzi.
Petiz promised to build new housing for Buzi workers. "We will have to take people out of their current houses he said, since they are in very poor condition. We shall build new housing, and also social and public infrastructure". (This refers to rehabilitating the school and health post located on the company perimeter).
The number of Mozambicans receiving anti-retroviral drugs, which prolong the lives of AIDS sufferers, has now reached 5,865 - well below the target for the end of this year of 8,000.
This figure was presented by the Health Ministry, during a coordination and planning meeting of Day Hospitals and integrated networks fighting against HIV/AIDS, that took place in Maputo on 12 November.
A number of constraints, including shortage of trained staff, of sufficient infrastructures, delays in the provision of the necessary funds, and lack of coordination between various bodies are blamed for failure to reach the target.
Latest figures on the progress of the epidemic suggest that over 14 per cent of all Mozambicans aged between 15 and 49 are HIV positive. The Ministry estimates that of these, some 200,000 have reached the stage of the disease at which they ought to start taking anti-retrovirals.
The Health Ministry is planning to open, next year, ten more units to cater for people living with HIV.
During the meeting, the deputy national director of medical care at the ministry, Rosa Marlene, said that the main objective of the initiative is to reduce HIV transmission from mother to child, to grant treatment during pregnancy and delivery, and to the children up to the age of 18 months, and also allow a follow up of the treatment.
She said that the meeting was an opportunity to plan their actions, given the complexity of the work. Regular planning, she said, is essential in order to assess the situation, and thus the ministry will convene quarterly meetings.
She explained that the provision of the drugs is done in yearly packages, and all precautions should be taken to ensure that stocks do not run out.
Marlene said that the Health Ministry had a package to cater for 8,000 patients in 2004, and the figure is to increase to 20,000 patients in 2005. She urged every health unit to follow up its patients carefully.
Since 2002, the Mother-to-Child Transmission Prevention Programme tested 48,539 pregnant women, of whom 8,695 were found to be HIV-positive. Of these, 2,375 are currently receiving treatment.
The Mozambican government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on 11 November launched a "Vulnerability Reduction Strategy" in the southern district of Manhica.
UNDP resident representative Marilyn Spezzati declared that the strategy is designed to cope with a "triple threat" facing many parts of Mozambique - food insecurity, the effects of HIV/AIDS, and the loss of the capacity of national institutions to provide services (caused partly by the deaths from AIDS of teachers, health workers and civil servants).
She said that the strategy takes as its target groups "both institutions and individuals, and proposes an integrated and multi-sector response to face the crisis, attempting to link political actions with community actions which, at local level, have a direct impact on improving poverty indicators".
A "Vulnerability Analysis Group" has determined that 42 districts in seven of the country's 11 provinces are "hotspots" - that is they are particularly vulnerable to the combined impact of drought, AIDS, and poverty.
The strategy outlined by Spezzati is intended to enable communities in these areas "to raise their competence to manage vulnerability".
Key to this is the transfer of knowledge and information, in which the education system and the mass media play a key role. "The possibility given by the Education Ministry to adapt 20 percent of the curriculum of schools to local realities makes it possible to incorporate information and practices aimed at strengthening community capacities", Spezzati said. Taking the school as "a dynamising centre for communities" provided opportunities "for contributing to the fight against poverty and for the reduction of vulnerability".
The institutional response to crises would also lean heavily on the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies. One of the reasons behind the choice of Manhica to launch the strategy is that it contains a pilot Telecentre, where computer technology is put at the service of the community.
The government and UNDP hope to facilitate access across the country to informational technology at district and community level.
UNDP also views the Vulnerability Reduction Strategy as a contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of ambitious targets to be achieved by 2015 - but which, given the current level of development aid, most of sub-Saharan Africa cannot possibly achieve.
The foremost MDG is to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. Mozambique is on target for achieving this - but only because its starting point, thanks to the war of destabilisation, was so low.
Mozambique may also succeed in reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015. But other MDGs seem out of reach, certainly by 2015. They include, for instance, halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger, reducing under-five mortality by two thirds, halving the percentage of the population without access to safe drinking water, eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education, and halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The British company Saxonian Estates has agreed to invest $5 million in purchasing the greater part of the Madal group of agricultural companies in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia.
Under the agreement, Saxonian Estates, which has a variety of business interests in Zimbabwe and Zambia, will acquire 79.6 percent of the shares in Madal. The Mozambican state intends to sell most of the rest off to Madal managers and workers.
In the 1980s, the war of destabilisation wrecked the Zambezia economy, and threw Madal into crisis. In 1991, its original Norwegian and Portuguese shareholders abandoned the group, because of its huge debts to the state and to banks.
According to the Ministry release, in 2003 the government and the country's largest bank, the International Bank of Mozambique (BIM), in 2003 worked out a scheme to clear up about 80 percent of Madal's debts. They also slashed the size of the group by two thirds. Madal used to have concessions covering 107,000 hectares of land - that has now been cut back to just 34,800 hectares.
Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa, announced in Maputo on 12 November that the Brazilian mining giant, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) has won the tender for the concession on the Moatize coal reserve in the western province of Tete.
Four companies were prequalified - CVRD, Anglo-American, Rio Tinto and a consortium formed by BHP-Billiton and Mitsubishi. However, Anglo-American and Rio Tinto dropped out, and so by the closing date of 8 November bids had only been received from CVRD and BHP-Billion.
Langa said the BHP-Billiton bid was disqualified, since it failed to meet one of the main requirements - which was an unlimited banker's guarantee for the prospection and research phase of the project. Unwilling to expose their shareholders to a potential risk, BHP-Billiton proposed a ceiling of $100 million on any guarantee. This was not acceptable and so the rest of their proposal was not even opened.
Langa said the CVRD financial proposal is for a payment of $122.8 million to the government. to be effected when contracts are signed later this month.
The viability study CVRD proposes to undertake in the next 18 months is for a total marketable coal production of 14-15 million tonnes a year. In addition, CVRD promises to build a 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power station in Tete, and to market 15 percent of coal production within Mozambique.
The bulk, however, will be exported, mainly for use in the steel plants of CVRD's associate companies in Brazil.
CVRD is also offering, free of charge, five percent of shares in the Moatize mining company to the Mozambican state. A further 10 percent will be reserved for Mozambican private investors, but they will have to purchase them.
CVRD has promised to spend $6.47 million on community projects during the prospection phases - which is more than three times the minimum figure of $2 million stipulated by the government. During the lifespan of the mine, CVRD is proposing to spend $50 million on community projects.
Langa said that CVRD also hopes to expand into other industries in the Zambezi valley - including the construction of an aluminium smelter and a cement factory.
In the early years of Mozambican independence, a state company, Carbomoc, operated mines in the Moatize area. But it is believed that Carbomoc had only scratched the surface, and the true extent of the Moatize coal deposits have yet to be ascertained.
One CVRD official told AIM he believed that Moatize was "the last great unexploited coal reserve in the world".
The government will now have to decide whether to wind up Carbomoc. The Carbomoc mining concession at Moatize will be extinguished once the contracts with CVRD are signed.
However, the CVRD concession will not cover all of Moatize. Excluded, for example, is the privately-run Chipanga-11 privately run open cast mine, which is producing about 300 tonnes of coal a month.
The basic pre-condition for the Moatize coal project was ensuring transport to the port of Beira. This was guaranteed earlier this year, when the Beira rail system was leased out to the Indian consortium of Rites and Ircon International.
The top priority for the Indian consortium is to rebuild the Sena railway, that runs from Moatize to Beira, and which was destroyed by Renamo rebels in the mid-1980s.
Mozambican farmers have marketed, so far, about 80,000 tonnes of cotton in the present campaign across the country, and are still holding another 7,000 tonnes. The Mozambican Cotton Institute (IAM) estimates that about 88,000 tonnes of cotton could be marketed by the end of the campaign, compared with 54,000 tonnes in 2003.
IAM says that although production has increased, the companies involved in marketing may not make much profit, due to the continuing drop in cotton prices on the world market.
The country's authorities and the producers agreed on a producer price of 5,000 meticais (about 25 US cents) per kilo of first grade raw cotton, while the second grade product costs 4,800 meticais. To come to this figure, the National Wages and Prices Commission took into account prices on the international market until last June, when cotton was traded at 60 US cents a pound. Since June the prices have dropped to 49 US cents a pound.
The June agreement insulated peasant cotton producers from this drop, but it is a serious problem for the concessionary companies who provide the peasant farmers with inputs, and then buy up the raw cotton they produce, process it and export the cotton fibre.
The head of the IAM Studies and Projects Department, Norberto Mahalambe, said that the country has exported, so far, about 18,000 tonnes of cotton fibre, from last year, that earned $21 million. There are still 1,200 tonnes of 2003 fibre to be exported.
Of this year's production, about 11,000 tonnes have already been processed, part of which has been exported, earning about $4 million.
Mahalambe believes that, despite the drop in prices on the world market, production next year will remain at the level of about 80,000 tonnes. "What happens is that the current prices are good for the peasants, and they will feel motivated to produce more in the next season", he said. But he also noted that the drop in international prices will prejudice not only the companies but also the state, because of the consequent drop in taxes and export duties paid.
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